Before Tequila There Was Pulque




The ancestral beverage of Mexico, Pulque, was the progenitor of tequila and its origins date back to the Mesoamerican culture. It is a milk-colored fermentation of the sap from the agave plant and this sacred drink was limited to the elites of the very stratified Aztec culture.

Various stories exist to explain how pulque came to be, but the most compelling is the simplest. Tlacuache (a possum) discovered that its human-like hands could dig into the agave and extract the naturally fermenting juices, making it Mexico’s first drunk. The rivers were said to have followed the path of Tlacuache as he went about his business. They were straight unless he was drunk and could explain why rivers curve through the landscape. I rather like the idea that a river’s course is based, not on the physics of gravity and waters taking the path of least resistance, but on the fact a hammered marsupial had forgotten where it lived.

The fact is that the Maguey, known as the Agave Americana, was long prized as a sacred plant, likely due to its longevity and the care needed in cultivating it for the production of pulque. It can take 8-10 years for a single agave plant to reach maturity and be harvested so it was an expensive commodity. Likely the average person sipped on fermentations of other plants, fruits, or even drank chocolatl, leaving the pulque to the ruling classes and religious establishment. Later, after Spanish conquest and the upheaval of the stratification of Mexican society, pulque lost its status as a drink of the wealthy. Fortunately, it never went away and from the pulque made from Weber Blue Agave, tequila eventually became possible.

Pulquerias can still be found all over Mexico despite its decline as the people swiftly moved to the easier way to make beer. Some social factors also played a part, like the Lázaro Cárdenas administration of the 1930’s and his campaign against pulque. This was seen as part of the system that saw wealthy landowners controlling the rural economy. It was also considered a solution to the image that Mexico was suffering from a public drunkenness problem. Pulque has come back into style in recent years when foreigners visiting drink the same drink that was probably enjoyed by the likes of Montezuma and Cuauhtémoc.

Pulque never really caught on outside of Mexico due to the difficulty of keeping it from going bad during shipping. So, if you want to imbibe the drink of the culture that worshipped the feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, you have to go to the source to get it. You can even get it strawberry flavored, although quite what Quetzalcoatl would make of that is anyone’s guess. Pulque has become a popular nutritional supplement used by bodybuilders and weightlifters as "sólo le falta un grado para ser carne" – "it is only a bit shy of being meat"

Next, we’ll learn how a scholar in Persia, modern day Iran, would set the stage of turning the lower strength alcoholic drinks like wine and beer into the stronger tipples that are now produced everywhere in the world, including the town of Tequila, where Señor Rio is produced with love and care from a family recipe.


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